The Scotsman Sessions #66: Imogen Stirling

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts world shutting down for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Imogen Stirling performs “This is the Apocalypse” – a poem she made by editing together contributions from five participants in an online workshop she ran: Gabriella Sloss, Emily Rowan, Sarah Jaber, Gavin Cruickshank and Emma Lynne Harley

Even before the coronavirus hit, 2020 was shaping up to be a strange year for Glasgow-based poet and musician Imogen Stirling. “My show #Hypocrisy was scheduled for a two-month tour in Australia and London,” she says, “and then a combination of the bush fires over there and me being unwell meant this all fell through at the last minute. I was just picking myself up when Covid and lockdown came about.”

Her new show Love the Sinner, in preparation at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, was put on hold, even as the rest of her work was cancelled or postponed almost immediately. “Through a combination of online workshops, gigs and poetry mentoring sessions, I tried to move as many services online as possible,” she says. “That was really quite hard, as someone who focuses so much on live performance and interaction, but it’s been a learning curve. I’m just about scraping by.”

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The first poem she performs for her Scotsman Session stemmed from a four-week online workshop she ran called Poetry in Turbulent Times. Inspired by a short poem she found in the New York Times entitled “The Apocalypse” by Boston doctor Elizabeth Mitchell, each of her workshop attendees (Gabriella Sloss, Emily Rowan, Sarah Jaber, Gavin Cruickshank and Emma Lynne Harley) wrote a short piece, and Stirling edited them together into “This is the Apocalypse.”

Imogen Stirling

“There’s a real poignancy and a sense of loneliness to it, I think,” she says. “Some people’s words were very uplifting, very forward-looking and optimistic, and that’s the note I’ve tried to end on. But there’s a lot of confusion and anxiousness in others’ writing, and also little bits of humour; the people who have subscribed to Joe Wicks’s PE class, for example. I’ve tried to put as many of these different flavours in as I can, to give the most rounded collective idea.”

Her clip also features the opening poem from her Love the Sinner show, which reimagines the Seven Deadly Sins as characters in a contemporary Scottish cityscape. “I think poetry in particular is such an essential, cathartic artform,” says Stirling. “It’s the most direct way of getting your thoughts down onto paper and the most healing artform, when it comes to processing emotion. To be able to speak these thoughts aloud in a shared space to people is incredibly empowering – but unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet.”

For more on Imogen Stirling’s work in poetry, music and education, visit www.imogenstirling.com

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